Frank L. Tamulonis III and Stephen C. Zumbrun
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently ruled that a challenge to Sunoco Pipeline L.P.’s (“Sunoco”) Mariner East Project under Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the “Environmental Rights Amendment” or “ERA”) may proceed. In Clean Air Council, et al. v. Sunoco Pipeline L.P., Docket No. 112 C.D. 2017 (Opinion issued April 30, 2018), the Court reversed, in part, the trial court’s denial of Sunoco’s motion for summary judgment, ordering an entry of summary judgment for Sunoco on all counts except for Plaintiffs’ claims brought under the ERA.
The case involves a challenge by Clean Air Council (“CAC”) and other individuals to Sunoco’s Mariner East Project, a pipeline construction project designed to transport natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania from the Marcellus and Utica basins to Marcus Hook in eastern Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs brought a variety of claims challenging Sunoco’s right and power to condemn property including a challenge to Sunoco’s public utility status as well as various constitutional claims, including an ERA claim, takings claims, and procedural due process claims. Plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that would halt pipeline construction. Continue reading “Pipeline Update: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Allows Environmental Rights Amendment Challenge to Sunoco Pipeline’s Mariner East Project to Proceed”
Frank L. Tamulonis III and Margaret A. Hill
Two recent decisions, one from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and one from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, rejected arguments from pipeline opponents that, if accepted, would have bolstered local efforts to stymie pipeline development. In Orus Ashby Berkley, et al. v. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, landowners challenged Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC’s (“MVP”) eminent domain authority for the construction of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”)-regulated pipeline designed to transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia. See 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 202907 (W.D. Va. Dec. 11, 2017). Landowners launched a challenge against MVP and FERC, arguing that Congress’s delegation of eminent domain authority to FERC and pipeline developers under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) was overly broad and unconstitutional, and that FERC’s standard to determine whether land is being taken for “public use” does not pass muster under the Fifth Amendment. On December 11, 2017, the District Court ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the constitutional arguments, reasoning that the NGA makes clear that any challenges to FERC orders must be first reheard by FERC, and then can only be challenged in a federal court of appeals. Id. The plaintiff landowners appealed that decision, which is still pending. Continue reading “Pipeline Update: Decisions in Pennsylvania and the Fourth Circuit Should Pave Way for Pipeline Development”
Michael L. Krancer and Frederick M. Lowther
The Department of Energy (“DOE”) last Friday rolled out a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) that amounts to requiring subsidies for nuclear plants and coal plants. The NOPR is made under the authority of Section 403 of the Department of Energy Organization Act, which allows the DOE Secretary to propose rules to FERC.
If FERC takes the action requested by DOE it would be a sea change in how competitive electricity markets work. Some would say the proposal scraps competitive wholesale electricity markets. See: www.energy.gov/articles/secretary-perry-urges-ferc-take-swift-action-address-threats-grid-resiliency. Continue reading “Department of Energy Files NOPR Providing for Guaranteed Profits for Nuclear and Coal Plants—Only.”
Michael L. Krancer, Margaret A. Hill, and Stephen C. Zumbrun
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) weighed in rapidly and decisively on the Sabal Trail (a/k/a Southeast Market Pipelines or “SMP Project”) case that the D.C. Circuit remanded to it on August 22, 2017. As previously discussed in greater detail by Frederick M. Lowther and Frank Tamulonis, the D.C. Circuit ruled that, in approving the SMP Project, FERC did not but should have considered potential “downstream” greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions from power plants burning natural gas supplied by the pipeline when preparing the final environmental impact statement (“FEIS”) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). In vacating and remanding to FERC, the D.C. Circuit concluded that “at a minimum, FERC should have estimated the amount of power plant carbon emissions that the pipelines will make possible” or if FERC was unable to quantify this amount, FERC should have “explained more specifically why it could not have done so.” Continue reading “FERC Responds Quickly and Decisively to D.C. Circuit Remand in Sabal Trail Matter on Downstream GHG Analysis”
Michael L. Krancer, Frederick M. Lowther, and Margaret Anne Hill
FERC issued a key and very welcome decision on September 15, 2017, when it held that New York, by its passive aggressive handling of a Clean Water Act (“CWA”) §401 certification, had waived its authority to issue the certification. FERC here slaps down on States treating CWA certifications as political footballs to veto pipeline infrastructure projects without regard to law or facts but on politics and pressure by ideological anti-natural gas interest groups. Continue reading “FERC Slaps Down State Overreach on Federal Jurisdictional Pipelines—Now Congress Needs to Act, Too”
Michael L. Krancer, Frederick M. Lowther, and Margaret Anne Hill
As we have noted in our prior blog posts on the Constitution Pipeline and Millennium Valley Lateral projects, §401 of the Federal Clean Water Act has become a focal point in the growing efforts by States to exercise dominant authority over FERC jurisdictional pipelines. This time, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (“WVDEP”) has taken the unprecedented step of actually revoking a §401 certification it had granted in March 2017 and then reaffirmed in May. This action by WVDEP may be the final straw in State authority to review FERC jurisdictional pipelines as FERC and the Congress will be energized to react to the oversteps by New York in Millennium and now West Virginia in Mountain Valley. Continue reading “Mountain Valley Pipeline: West Virginia Cements the Need for FERC and Congressional Action to Curb State Overreach on FERC Jurisdictional Pipelines”
Frederick M. Lowther and Michael L. Krancer
On August 30, 2017, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) issued a two-page letter (signed by the General Counsel of NYSDEC), which denies “conditionally” a water quality certification under §401 of the Federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”). As with the two prior denials (noted below), this denial has the effect of preventing construction of the eight-mile Valley Lateral Pipeline, which is part of the Millennium Pipeline intended to serve the 680 MW gas-fired CPV Valley Energy Center in Wayawanda, Orange County, NY, currently under construction. The “conditional” denial becomes unconditional in the event Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) does not grant NYSDEC’s petition to FERC filed last month to reconsider its approval of the line in light of “new law,” namely the recent D.C. Circuit decision Sierra Club v. FERC, 2017 WL 3597014 (D.C. Cir., August 22, 2017) (“Sierra Club”). Continue reading “Millennium’s Valley Lateral Project: Yet Another New York State Veto under the Clean Water Act”